The Crossroads of Time by Andre Norton
Recently, Tantor Audio has been releasing audiobook editions of many of Andre Norton’s stories which have been combined in omnibus editions originally published by Baen Books. I’ve been reviewing each novel separately because that’s our preference here at Fantasy Literature, but I love that readers can purchase these relatively short novels in cost-effective omnibus editions, and I am especially pleased that these stories are finally available in audiobook format.
Crosstime contains two stories about Blake Walker, an orphan who doesn’t know where he comes from and has an uncanny ability to sense imminent danger. In the first story, The Crossroads of Time, which was originally published in 1956, Blake is shaving when he gets a sudden and overwhelming urge to open his front door just as his neighbor is being assaulted. He soon learns that this is no ordinary crime — he has witnessed the activities of men who can travel across parallel Earths.
The neighbor and his colleagues belong to an organization that regulates world-hopping and is trying to stop a criminal mastermind from finding an Earth that he can conquer and set himself up as the evil tyrant he wants to be. With his precognitive abilities, Blake fits right in and wonders if he came from the same parallel Earth that his new colleagues came from — a place where the fallout from atomic war gave people psionic powers.
Soon, Blake is sucked into a nonstop adventure that’s full of surprises and danger. It involves chasing down leads, traveling between alternate Earths, hiding out in various safe houses (those were really cool), getting stranded on unfamiliar worlds, killing robotic enemies, and making new friends on other Earths where history went differently (such as, for example, Hitler winning the Battle of Britain, or a pandemic wiping out a huge proportion of the population). In Andre Norton’s stories, there’s usually an animal that plays an important role and, in The Crossroads of Time, it’s a cute kitten.
Despite dealing with some real-world history and speculating about how our own history could easily have gone differently, The Crossroads of Time is not very deep. It’s a typical Nortonesque yarn with an interesting premise followed by a breakneck-paced hazardous escapade.
When the adventure is over, Blake realizes the importance of the mission and is ready to sign up. They must stop the bad guy from destroying other worlds. We’ll hear about Blake’s next adventure in the second novel, Crosstime Quest, which is also available in the Crosstime omnibus by Baen/Tantor. Graham Rowat gives a nice retro-sounding performance in Tantor’s audiobook edition which is 12 hours long (for both books).